Saturday, March 13, 2010

Who can harness the wind?

In Steveston, we are no strangers to the wind.

As soon as the weather improves, it seems, we converge at Garry Point Park to watch kites being pulled and tugged to the sky. You can spot their colourful bellies grow full and hear their tails snapping as they pressed against the wind. Any British Columbia Kitefliers Association member would tell you that Garry Point Park is one of a few favoured locations to host kite competitions in the province.

It came as no surprise then that Olas de Viento - or wind waves - took up temporary residence at Garry Point Park in early December 2009. What better place to showcase the red circular form of steel curves that represents - what else - the wind that blows through the landscape and the waves that break at its feet.

And there couldn’t have been a more fitting place to embark on a nature-inspired experiment.

When I first came upon the light pole just steps away from the Garry Point Park concession window, I was intrigued by the solar panel and mini wind turbine sprouting from the top of what would otherwise be a very ordinary looking light pole.

To create a more sustainable community and reduce its greenhouse gases emissions, the City of Richmond has installed wind turbine and solar powered lighting system - one at the Vancouver Airport and one at Garry Point Park - to test the viability of the hybrid power system.

The pilot project commenced on May 14, 2008. The ten metre pole uses Innoair 600 PV technology to channel energy harnessed from the wind and sun to a battery pack, which provides illumination from dusk to dawn.

The success of this study will lay the foundation for further expansion to designated locations around Richmond. If adopted in the wider community, can you imagine a neighbourhood with no electrical cables and a green lighting system that’s 25 percent cheaper than that provided with the standard street light?

OK, I hear the naysayers say! What would happen when the sun decides to hide behind low lying clouds? After all, it happens, even Richmond. Are we then doomed to go about our business in darkness after sunset?

Apparently, the wind is a much more dependable source of energy than the sun, and the next item on the project team’s agenda would be to determine whether or not this light could function with only wind power.

In the meantime, whenever I need to press my hat down, or pull my jacket close to my chest, or turn my umbrella right side out, instead of complaining, I will think about the tremendous power we can harness from this force of nature and rejoice in its endless supply and enduring strength.

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